This article is published by Labour Behind The Label, 4-12-2007

G-Star, stop being a gag-star

On December 1, the Bangalore magistrate court ordered the arrest of seven Dutch human rights activists from the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) and the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN). Please write to G-star today.

Update: On 6th December, G-Star announced that it would cease orders from FFI. This was only one part of what we were asking, so the action continues.

For those planning to take action at their local G-Star store you can download the No Sweat leaflet here: G-Star leaflet.

Take action .

The seven are being targeted for their efforts to disseminate information about labour rights violations at the jeans manufacturer, Fibres and Fabrics International Pvt. Ltd. (FFI) and its subsidiary Jeans Knit Pvt. Ltd. (JKPL). The court has asked the India Ministry of Home Affairs to execute arrest warrants and request extradition of the Dutch nationals. The director of the internet service provider Antenna is also included in the request.

We urgently call upon you to contact G-Star, the only remaining buyer at FFI/JKPL, and urge them to take immediate action to make sure the workers producing their jeans are guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom of association. Since 2005, the CCC and ICN have informed G-Star about labour rights violations at FFI/JKPL, where G-Star is the primary buyer. To date, G-Star has not resolved the problems at FFI/JKPL, most notably the factory's egregious misuse of the judicial system to censor and harass its critics.

Given the urgency of the situation, the CCC and ICN now urge G-Star to use its commercial leverage and suspend all future orders and works in the pipeline at FFI/JKPL until all court cases are withdrawn and a good-faith dialogue with the local union and labour rights organisations, focused on normalizing industrial relations and remediation of outstanding labour issues, has begun.

The CCC and ICN on October 24th urged G-Star to:

  • Make placement of all future orders at FFI/JKPL, including those in the pipeline, conditional on 1) the withdrawal of all legal cases against local and international organisations and individuals related to this case, and 2) on the start of a dialogue to normalize industrial relations and address outstanding labour issues. It is important that G-Star's actions do not inadvertently harm the very people who are intended to benefit from its socially responsible sourcing policies. Therefore, G-Star should develop a coherent exit strategy that includes: placing the orders concerned in units geographically close to FFI/JKPL and ensuring that employment opportunities are provided to the FFI/JKPL workers. Such an exit strategy also includes publicly communicating that the decision to suspend future orders results directly from the actions of FFI/JKPL.
  • Immediately and transparently convey the above to FFI/JKPL underlining that they should immediately engage in a broad sustained dialogue including GATWU, Cividep, Munnade and NTUI, in order to normalize industrial relations, and address possible outstanding labour issues as well as issues that might come up in the future.
  • Transparently convey to FFI/JKPL that there can only be compliance with G-Star's code of conduct when freedom of association is truly implemented. Implementation of freedom of association includes that all unions are able to organize at FFI/JKPL regardless whether the company prefers certain unions over others, and that FFI/JKPL refrain from any action that might inhibit duly union activities. For freedom of association to be truly implemented at FFI/JKPL this means in practice that FFI/JKPL should withdraw the complaint against GATWU, NTUI, Cividep, Munnade and CCC Task Force Tamil Nadu.
  • Make a public statement that suing unions or labour rights organizations for circulating information on labour rights' violations, thereby restraining their right to Freedom of Speech, is incompatible with their expectations of their suppliers' implementation of Freedom of Association.
  • Do not conduct social audits at FFI/JKPL as long as FFI/JKPL through legal action is preventing GATWU, Cividep, Munnade and NTUI from being consulted.
To date, G-star has refused to undertake any of the actions listed above. In public they agree the court cases against the local and international organisations are a violation of freedom of speech, and that they hinder freedom of association. In practice, however, the company refuses to take action.

Take action .

In 2006, the CCC and ICN informed G-Star about labour rights violations at their supplier FFI/JKPL. When G-Star refused to take appropriate action towards the resolution of the labour rights violations, the CCC and ICN started a public campaign in May 2006. To date, notwithstanding confirmation of some of the originally reported violations by various sources, G-Star claims the violations are unsubstantiated. (For more information, see report of Fair Wear Foundation, pdf)

In February 2007, G-Star publicly denounced the Bangalore court's order to prolong the "gag order" against the local organisations because of the implications this order has for monitoring labour conditions at FFI/JKPL. In their public briefing on February 19, 2007, G-Star refers to the "gag order" as an obstacle to future social audits of labour conditions at FFI/JKPL. In April 2007, G-Star joined a collective call from brands and Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives to the Indian jeans manufacturer to engage with GATWU and to remediate any outstanding labour issue at FFI/JKPL.

While other brands involved started to review their sourcing relationship with FFI when it refused to take positive action, in a surprising move in June 2007, G-Star announced that they commissioned SGS to execute an audit to 'prove' compliance with freedom of association. CCC and all other stakeholders involved in the case, including ETI, FWF, SAI and various brands believe that the gag order on local organisations creates a fundamental obstacle to assessing compliance. In addition, there is evidence of workers being coached, and of SGS's conflict of interest, given its involvement in the controversial issuance of SA8000 certificates (subsequently withdrawn). G-star now claims that this audit report confirms that FFI/JKPL is in compliance with the right to freedom of association, but it refuses to make the report publicly available.

In a final attempt to make G-star act responsibly, Amnesty International (Netherlands), the Dutch Union Federation (FNV) and Oxfam-Novib contacted G-star last month and convinced them to engage with FFI/JKPL and insist they withdraw the court cases against local and international labour rights organisations. However, FFI/JKPL refused to meet with the organisations, and instead replied that it would not consider withdrawal of the complaints. Amnesty International, FNV and Oxfam-Novib have concluded that the Dutch government and G-Star should immediately take further action to press FFI/JKPL to accept mediation and withdraw the court cases against all labour rights organisations. G-star, however, has concluded that it is 'in the best interest of the workers' to continue business as usual, thereby ignoring the fact that workers have a right to a decent job, and to see their fundamental rights respected. FNV concluded that G-star is violating the international standard on freedom of association, as well as its own code of conduct.

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Landelijke India Werkgroep - December 18, 2007